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Today my book “Dynamite and Prayers:Emerald Miners of Afghanistan” officially goes ON SALE in the United States in advance of an exhibit of my photographs during the PhotoNOLA festival in New Orleans, Louisiana at the Second Story Gallery at 2372 St. Claude Avenue from December 10th to the 13th, 2015.

Daily we see images of the hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants fleeing war or seeking new lives flooding into Europe. According to the UNHCR more than half of the world’s refugees are from Syria, Afghanistan or Somalia. The Obama administration is making plans to raise the number of refugees accepted in the United States to as high as 100,000 in the coming years, an increase from 70,000 refugees allowed in this year. In Europe, kindness has prevailed for those who have taken these refugees into their homes and fear has spread where people have had no opportunity to have contact and know these brave, desperate souls.

During my decade of covering people affected by war for The New York Times and The Washington Post across the Middle East and Central Asia I have documented how war has upended communities and stolen the promise of a better future from the youth. In my new book “Dynamite and Prayers” I bring viewers in the desperate world of a group of young men facing an uncertain future in a war torn country. Through 40 captivating images the 60-page coffee table book tells the story of young men as they labor in the emerald mines of Afghanistan. These men toil, not for riches, but to earn enough money to buy their passage out of Afghanistan and to Europe. The book brings the viewer into the breathtaking mountain homes of the miners and ends with the visually stunning ancient horse game of Buzkashi played by their fathers.

With a foreword written by Carlotta Gall, a long time New York Times correspondent covering Afghanistan and Pakistan, the book gives context of the historic events that lead the miners to this moment. With rich insight and images that show the captivating beauty of these young Afghan men’s daily life, viewers will have the chance to inform themselves about just where this migration of humanity has come from and earn understanding of what it is they seek.

Proceeds from the book purchased directly from me through Etsy helps me continue my work of highlighting humanity in an ever increasingly chaotic world.

Thank you for your Support,

Max Becherer

I invite you to share and learn from Maggie’s intern experience and critique!
Future artist,photographer, economist and world explorer, Maggie Hyde, has spent the summer interning with me from the Maryland Institute College of Arts. She interned with me at a tricky time for any freelance photographer; as I changed my base of operations. For the last three years I had been living and working from Islamabad, Pakistan. Due to newly enforced journalist visa regulations, I have now relocated to New Orleans.
As a result Maggie has been with me during a cycle of total renaissance as I start new community based documentary projects, cover the big daily stories, and create new plans for self-promotion. This video series, the presentation, mechanics and presentation of it have also been part of her experience. In addition Maggie has stalked the sun at dawn and sunset exploring the people and neighborhoods of New Orleans and Louisiana.
In the episode, Maggie has photographed the Miss USA Pageant Preliminary competition. Maggie presents her images and I critique and give advice on improving her photography. Follow Maggie on Instagram @daydreammaggs

01/17/2015 – Karachi, Pakistan: Yesterday Asif Hassan, a photographer working for Agency France-Presse in Karachi, was shot in the back while covering a protest against the publication of Charlie Hebdo cartoons considered blasphemous in Pakistan. Hundreds of people from Islami Jamiate-e-Talaba had gathered for the protest when shots rang out wounding Hassan in the lung and narrowly missing his heart. Hassan is now recovering was rushed to the hospital by fellow photographers and is in stable condition.

Last year I was lucky enough to spend time with the brave photographers of Karachi. Seeing and hearing their harrowing stories of zooming in and capturing news pictures on the violence filled streets of Karachi had me realizing these guys do their job with a maximum of daring and a minimum of support. Photographers are seen as the lowest tier of journalist in Pakistan. As a result their pay is often humble and their training inadequate for the dangers they face.

I was compelled to make this video to highlight their story using their motorbikes as a way to tell their story. I am hoping that by working with local press clubs like South Asia Photojournalist Association I can help these guys get more training

In this video Photojournalist Mohammed Athar Khan with the Express Tribune talks about his work as a photojournalist covering Pakistan. Khan and his colleagues cover the dangerous streets of Karachi with motorbikes, which allow them to quickly get in and out of hazardous news scenes that are impossible to get in and out of any other way.

I wish Hassan a speedy recovery and a safe ride to all of the brave photojournalists of Karachi.

A weekend getaway in the Chitral Valley shows stunning areal views of Pakistan’s northern mountains and the warmth of the Kalash people that have a self-sustaining pre-Islamic culture.

It was a sleepless last night in Chitral. The helicopter was down. It was out there somewhere where anyone could find it. And then what would be the reckoning? What would be made of a small helicopter fitted with a camera? In Pakistan? Plenty. Earlier that day I had taken it out to capture some aerial footage of the breathtaking mountain vistas of the Chitral Valley with our local host and a policeman in tow. The controlled flight plan panning over a bridge spanning the river that leads to the village of Ayun vanished in the thin air as did my helicopter. Heavy gusts of wind we could not feel in the river valley took it up and away out of my control. My wife, our hosts and the policeman set out on foot through corn fields and canals in the direction we last saw it. I hoped as we entered the village of Bruz that everyone would have seen it land in a farmer’s animal pen, filthy but found. The river made a curve around the patch of farmland where the chopper disappeared, forcing us to add a crash landing in the river to the list of possible fates. Our hosts guessed the villagers, seeing us coming with a policeman in tow, would point to the crashed thing and not touch it, for fear of being associated with what basically looked like a spying tool. That was the best-case scenario, which was quickly fading along with the afternoon sun. Standing in the dark, cold and defeated, we passed our cell phone numbers to local merchants figuring if they saw the kids using some strange looking plastic thing as a cricket ball they would at least call us first.

That night, I dared not open my eyes to see if my wife was sleeping. I had turned our relaxing weekend get-away, full of mountain hikes and visits with the colorful Kalash people, into a possible news event that she might have to write about as a first person piece. And instead of lounging in a chair reading her book, she’d spent the afternoon with me tromping through cornfields. As the sun illuminated the peaks I saw no gathering hordes on the horizon and figured if I did not want my own wife calling me for a quote in the coming weeks asking me why I thought it was a good idea to fly a remote controlled helicopter in Pakistan for a story about a drone villagers thought they found then I needed to find this thing before we flew back to Islamabad. To make the flight, we had a 10:30 a.m. cutoff.

That is how we came to spend the last morning of our relaxing weekend getaway doing search patterns in the cornfields of Bruz. Four boys, Wasim Akram, Ubaid Ur Rehman, Farid Ur Rehman and Mohamed Suheeb Akram quickly emerged eager to help us find what we were looking for so we could get out of their cornfields. We dispatched the boys to the farmhouses to ask if anyone had seen a small helicopter crash in their fields. By 9:30 a.m. we had followed the eyewitness accounts past the farm houses, past the tree lines and beyond the dry river bed. It dawned on us that the villagers might tell us anything just to make us go away. With a last hopeless scan of the ground around us we called the driver to take us home. The four boys who had helped us wandered off disappointed to play a game of cricket at their favorite open field next to the raging river. At 10:29 a.m., that is when we heard it. The excited yells of the four boys. They had found it at the edge of their cricket field _ 20 feet from where the cliff dropped off to the river. Shouts, hugs and rewards were passed around. International incident diverted, marriage saved, weekend officially an adventure not a news story.

Image

September 22, 2013; Bruz, Pakistan: Our police escort, Constable Attiq Ur Rehman, left, and the heroes of the day, from left to right, Farid Ur Rehman, Mohamed Suheeb Akram, Ubaid Ur Rehman and Wasim Akram return my RC helicopter and camera after they found if for me when they went to play a game of cricket. Photo by Rebecca Santana 


Four returning American soldiers and their wives talk about their family at war for the last eight years during the Iraq War. Photography, Audio and Production by Max Becherer. This is a long version of a report to be published at Menshealth.com

This month America must wrestle with the meaning of the drawdown of U.S. combat troops in the seven-year war in Iraq. The media, the U.S. government, the American people and even I myself, who as a journalist spent much of the past seven years covering the conflict, must try to wade through the staggering numbers and terrible tragedy that the war has wrought in an attempt to take some meaning from it all. The figures speak for themselves: some 4,400 American soldiers gave their lives; tens of thousands of American soldiers paid with life-long wounds; the U.S. taxpayer shelled out $900 billion. Still more staggering, however, is the number of Iraqis who were killed during the war—with estimates running from 50,000 to as high as 80,000. Numbers that should be heartbreaking are numbing.

On my recent trip to Iraq, any clear success was hard to see. Iraqis continue to suffer through the summer heat with just a few hours of electricity a day. Suicide attacks still kill crowds of civilians and assassinations remain commonplace. Yet in the middle of the chaos, the U.S. endeavor in Iraq has convinced one group of Iraqis to embrace the American vision for the country and make the struggle for the future of Iraq their own. It strikes me that members of Iraq’s security forces stand as the answer to the 4,400 white headstones in cemeteries across America. The impression left on the minds of these Iraqi men is the actual sum of all other intentions. It is the thousands of little interactions between one American and one Iraqi that, in many ways, may be the sole bright spot in a war still searching for its legacy.

Below are the translated interviews of four Iraqis who took up arms alongside the Americans to fight for the future of Iraq. These men put their trust in the Americans who came to their country. These men suffered the most visible of physical wounds to mark their sacrifice, wounds that so many American soldiers suffered themselves. Their words are translated from Arabic to English with as faithful an interpretation as I could find. They serve as a window into their perspective. Each sentence is borne from hard experience. Each word helps fill in the blanks to the question, “What was it all for?”

Name: Siraj Mounir Abdallah Jasim al-Jubouri

Age: 22

Job: Iraqi Army Soldier

Injury: Double leg amputation above the knee

Q: How were you injured?

A: “I was injured in the area of Abu-Ghraib. I was with the cohort II, army brigade 24, the sixth division. During my duty an explosive resulted in amputating my two legs. The Iraqi Army took me to the medical unit in our division. The friendly side, (the Americans), were there by accident at the headquarters and transferred me to their headquarters and then to the Ibn Sina American military hospital. I am indebted to them. My injury was very serious and they saved my life. I saw some of the American doctors but unfortunately I don’t know their names. I wish I could have stayed in touch or seen them because I am in their debt. I wish to see them now.”

Q: Did you work with the Americans?

A: “Yes, we always made joint raids with the friendly side in the area of Abu-Ghraib and we had very good situations with them because they are nice and educated people. One time an American soldier told me: “Whenever I see you, you are smiling. Why do you smile?” I told him that I’m like this. I like to smile. He said: “That’s what I like about you. You’re always optimistic.” I had many American friends, but I only knew them by face. They came sat beside us, laughing and chatting. I chatted with them. I used to play aikido, we used to chat, but unfortunately I didn’t memorize their names. I only know their faces, we used to laugh and chat only.”

Q: Is it the right time for the Americans to withdraw and do you believe that the Iraqi army is capable of taking over?

A: “Iraqi soldiers are loyal and they can take over but the Americans, because they have advanced weapons and because they are the first in the world, they are capable of defending Iraq and there is no need for them to withdraw now. We care about what the people want. Naturally, the people do not want an occupation but the American side came as a liberating country not as an occupying country. Some mentalities, because they are not aware of many things, believe as we used to think during the old era, but this is wrong. They are not occupiers. They are liberators and they rid us of something my children nor I would not have been able to get rid of. They rid us of something that we can say is like Azrael. (note: Azrael is the death angel but he means it in a negative way, meaning they rid us of a terrible nightmare).”
“…..back to the army. First, the Iraqi government: we haven’t formed a government yet. We have no government yet. See how long now. No president, no parliament speaker, no prime mine, no members. The country is in between. Let’s form a government, have an army with enough equipment that is capable to control terrorists. Till now we don’t have this. We only have salaried soldiers in the street with weapons. What’s their job? No job. That’s what we have. If we were like the American army controlling the situation I believe the Americans would not stay after that. They themselves would have left.”

Q: Who helps and cares for your at home and at the hospital? The psychiatrist told us you tried to commit suicide twice. What is the reason?

A: “When I was first injured, the friendly side was treating me and they were nice, they didn’t make me feel my handicap. They understood the situation. They knew how to deal with me. But when I moved to Iraqi hospitals … I was thrown like, God save you, any animal, nobody taking care of me. Finally, I, personally, and my family because they are concerned for me, moved me to a private hospital. I was spending my own money. Instead of saving money for my future, it seems it is not my destiny to save this money. I spent all my money on treatment. I saw that suddenly from a whole person I became half a person’s body. I felt depressed and thought of committing suicide more than once. I had tried to do something for myself, for my children and the future. Now that I’ve become handicapped how would I be able to work or get something for myself, because by nature I like to depend on myself. I don’t like to ask people to bring or do things for me. You know Iraq has become a country of rich and poor. Rich people benefit but the poor have no luck in this country. We do all we can just to make an honest living, but no luck in this life.”

Q: Who helped you get over this phase?

A: “Most of the time, my family were talking to me saying this is God’s fate. Then I thought let me start a new life. The most important thing is that I am alive. When one thinks of other people’s worse tragedies one’s own seems less tragic. I saw other disabled persons who are helpless. It’s good I had my hands and brain to help me. I started accepting what happened. My mother helped me most, my father, my brother and sister, for example, brought me the things I wanted. As a person who treated me, my superior helped me become stronger, a gentleman with us at the Muthanna airport, Abu-Fatma, the psychiatrist, sort of quieted me down and told me that God willing things were gonna be alright. He helped me to sort of get over the injury.”

Q: Do you regret the injury?

A: “It is not a matter of regretting something that happened to me. It’s God’s fate. I sort of regret and do not regret. In the case of friendly side, the American and European countries, soldiers are dear, if something happens to them or if they suffer an injury like mine they provide them with the house, the car, things they need, special places, they lead a comfortable life. In our case in Iraq when I go to the street people look at me. When I wanna get married, when you ask for someone’s hand in marriage they ask you what is your future, what will the Iraqi government give you so that we can guarantee our daughter’s future? Look, I regret only one thing. First of all, I didn’t find attention from the Iraqi government. Suddenly, this soldier becomes like a torn paper that they throw away. No rights. They do not think: “This soldier. What happened to him? Here. Take a piece of land, take a car, etc..” So that one feels taken care of because I found attention from the Iraqi government. We used to stand a lot in the sun, we walked the streets at night while people slept, we didn’t know when we would die, we jeopardized our lives for our country and after that we were thrown away like waste.”

Q: What do you want to tell the American or European people?

A: “As for the American side, they are the country of humanity. I prefer they find me a solution to rid us of our suffering. Some simple help because we can’t find much in this country.”


Name: Mohammad Jassim Mohammad

Age: 25

Job: Iraqi Army Soldier

Injury: Right arm amputation above elbow.

Q: How were you injured?

A: “One day while on patrol in Mosul in May of 2005 a car bomb exploded near me.”

Q: Can you tell me the names of US soldiers who shared the fighting with you?

A: “Yeah, I remember my friend with whom I played. We always met, chatted, sat in the room, went out on patrols together. He always depended on me. He told me: “Mohamed. You have a big body.” And, Rice, a dark American. They like me very much because I have a big body, I was with them all the time, and I am fearless. I went with them anywhere. They like me very much and they went out on patrols with me.”

Q: Do you believe it is suitable for the Americans to leave Iraq? Is the Iraqi army at the present time able to take over from the Americans?

A: “I believe it is not suitable for the Americans to leave now. Because Iraq is now in a crisis and if they leave it would be chaos. Iraqi airplanes now do not fly. It has to be an American airplane to provide protection in case of street wars or anything. American airplanes protect the country. I believe it is not in Iraq’s interest if the Americans leave.”

Q: Do you mean that the government at the time being is incapable, still new?

A: “The government now is not able. The government is now in dispute. It hasn’t managed to form its own government, let alone being able to protect the country from a sectarian war. If the Americans leave I don’t believe there will be more security, I don’t believe there will be more security than now.”

Q: You now suffer from your wounds. Do you regret this or are you proud because the sacrificed?

A: “I am proud of this, because I didn’t go for something that’s not good. I gave my blood and right arm and hand for Iraq, and secondly for my family and for them to live the right way. I didn’t do something wrong. I am proud of this thing because I sacrificed for my country and family.”

Q: What do you think for the future?

A: “My optimism for the future is that I sacrificed for Iraq, even if my children and grand children, as long as I gave this thing, even my son will be used to sacrifice instead of taking another path. He will consider that that’s what his father did and he’ll follow in his father’s footsteps.”

Q: Who helps you at home, your family, your friends?

A: “When I first was wounded, the right help came from my family but after some time there were problems. I then got married, and when I got married I felt comfortable. My wife, you know, my social and married life are now comfortable, thank God.”

Name: Major Hussin Brisam Eidan

Age: 49

Job: Member of the Anti-Terrorism Forces, At Special Operations Head Office.

Injury: Left leg and finger amputation

Q: How were you injured?

A: “My injury occurred on the 3rd April, 2009. It happened as I was going on leave. A bomb was planted in my vehicle in Al-Sadeyya. My car actually belongs to the Government. It’s a civilian car. After driving for half an hour, from Al-Sadeyya to Al-Karrada, The blast took place. They took me to a few hospitals. Ibn Al-Nafies Hospital was the first. Then, to Al-Kendi Hospital. Then, the Military Unit took me to Ibn Sina Hospital inside the Green Zone. Which is run by the American Friends. And there, the left leg was removed, as well as my finger.”

Q: Did you work with the Americans?

A: “Yes, we were in combat together. At most of our missions we were with the Friends.”

Q: Can you remember any of their names and what you did together?

A: “Many names come into memory, as I worked together with our Friends. I served with Friends in all my missions, all but one as I recall, and that was for trial purposes. They wanted to see if we could do it without the Americans. One was Major Glayman, he worked with me for a while. And when my injury took place, he was there, and visited me at the Ibn Sina Hospital. Our Friends were serving for three months each with us, then they got replaced by another team. So, there are more names than I could tell you. There’s Major Sam, Captain Ben, Major Lemon, many names.”

Q: Do you believe that the Iraqi army is capable of taking over security?

A: “Yes, now the Iraqi Army is almost fully in charge of security tasks, except with logistic support and Air support, as we get that from our friends. So, once there is political stability in the country, and a “government” is formed, it would be possible for the Friends and Multi-National Forces to leave. And the Iraqi Army will be in control of the situation.”

Q: Is it the right time for the Americans to withdraw?

A: “At this time, this is not possible, as there is no political stability.”

Q: Do you regret the injury?

A: “I’m definitely proud of this because I offered this to my country. I have chosen the military career due to my passion for this line of work. Expecting I could be injured or even killed. This is all part of our duties. Because we raid major strong criminals, so, we were expecting this. Expecting that we, officers, would receive injuries. We expected this.”

Q: Do you receive good care at the clinic? Is your care expensive?

A: “Not for money, everything here is for free. Because the center is a military installation, and is under the Ministry of Defense. So, it’s for free. So, they look after us, but they seem to be a bit short on funds. They could use some improvements of some material, equipment, training courses to affiliates…. All this would make better this center and improve its function.”

Q: Is there anything you want to tell the American people?

A: “I request from the American Government, or the American Embassy, to provide support to our injured men in Iraq. Because we lack some equipment as I told you. Also, there isn’t that much attention. I’m requesting a US Visa to receive medical treatment in the U.S. because I saw the American wounded who came to visit a few times. They had artificial limbs, and acted as if they didn’t lose any limbs, and walked naturally. There was even a Captain who said, ‘After this trip to Iraq, I’ll be heading back to Afghanistan to visit my unit to thank those serving in my unit in Afghanistan.’”